Rob Astorino was introduced as a member of Donald Trump’s 2020 advisory board and a “new CNN contributor” Thursday night. But it wasn’t until several minutes into his appearance that he was forced to admit that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement that bars him from “disparaging” the president in any way.
The topic at hand was the potential presidential pardon of Paul Manafort and Astorino, who was identified on screen alternatively as “CNN Political Commentator” and “Friend of President Trump for Over 15 Years,” quickly dismissed any concerns about Trump taking such an action. “I don't think he should, not because he can't,” he added. “He has absolute power to do that. Any president does.”
After some more back and forth with the show’s other guest, former Obama official Jen Psaki, that included Astorino downplaying Trump’s assertion that Manafort is a “good guy,” host Poppy Harlow, filling in for Erin Burnett, stopped to ask him a pertinent question.
“OK, I just need to know that you work on the Trump 2020 advisory committee and therefore you have signed an NDA that includes a non-disparagement clause, so you can't really tell me then,” Harlow said. “You really don't believe the president's own words, ‘he's a good guy,’ about Paul Manafort?”
Astorino notably did not deny that he signed such an agreement and after stumbling a bit went right on defending the president as if nothing had happened.
Or as Luppe B. Luppen AKA @nycsouthpaw, who first flagged the moment on Twitter put it, “Then they just go on with the conversation! Like they haven’t just revealed it all to be a farce.”
The moment comes a week after MSNBC’s Katy Tur posed a similar question to one of her Trump-defending guests, former Trump campaign spokesman Marc Lotter, in an even more pointed fashion: “If you’re not allowed legally to disparage the president or his family or anything they have to do with, any company they have or asset they have, why can we believe anything you say?”
As the White House’s reaction to the publication of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged elucidated, both the Trump campaign and administration have reportedly required all staffers to sign blanket NDAs, which legally prevent them from disparaging the president.
“If someone is bound by an NDA and that’s not disclosed, that’s journalistic malpractice,” Steven Roberts, a professor of media ethics at George Washington University, told The Daily Beast last week. “If you don’t disclose that someone is contractually obligated, that’s a huge ethical problem and a huge ethical mistake.”
But even if that NDA is disclosed, as Harlow essentially did during her segment with Astorino Thursday night, it invites the question: Why are networks like CNN hiring “political commentators” who are not legally allowed to say a bad word about President Trump?